The Red Badge of Courage

Stephen Crane
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War

author  Stephen Crane

type of work  Novel

genre  Psychological novel, war novel

language  English

time and place written  1893–1895, New York

date of first publication  October 5, 1895

publisher  D. Appleton and Company

narrator  The narrator speaks from the third-person limited omniscient point of view, relaying the thoughts and feelings of Henry but not those of the other characters.

climax  Henry Fleming and Wilson lead the 304th Regiment to an unlikely victory over the rebels, seizing the enemy’s position and their flag.

protagonist  Henry Fleming

antagonists  The Confederate Army; the Union general who calls the soldiers of the 304th Regiment “mule drivers” and “mud diggers”

point of view  Henry Fleming’s

setting  An unspecified time during the Civil War; the battle described in the novel is most likely a fictional account of the Battle at Chancellorsville, which took place May 2–6, 1863.

falling action  After capturing the enemy’s flag, Henry reflects on his experiences in battle and decides that he is a man of courage.

tense  Past

foreshadowing  Henry’s early conversations with Jim Conklin and Wilson establish the choice he will later face in battle: whether to fight or flee; Henry’s encounters with death (the corpse in the woods and Jim Conklin) anticipate Henry’s acceptance of the universe’s indifference.

tones  Detached, journalistic, realistic, impressionistic, sardonic, humorous, pathetic, violent

themes  Traditional versus realistic conceptions of courage, honor, and manhood; the human instinct to survive as pitted against the universe’s grand indifference; the struggle between self-interest and group obligation; the psychological effects of realizing one’s own mortality; development from innocence to experience

motifs  Noise (gossip, battle, bravado) versus silence; youth and egoism versus maturity and selflessness; mortality as a defining principle of courage and honor; accepting one’s past as a necessary (and humbling) step toward maturity

symbols  Because Crane was so invested in portraying a young soldier’s experience as accurately as possible, the novel is not highly symbolic. There are a few exceptions: the dead soldier in the “chapel of trees”; the red sun setting after Jim Conklin’s death (nature’s indifference to human existence); the flag (beauty and invincibility).